Saturday, 1 June 2019

Flow with motivation

I believe that there is only a certain amount of tasks that humans can do where the prime motivator is that we have been asked or told to. I think these tasks use a very specific type of energy in the body and brain that needs to be replenished before it can be used again, and that this energy is different from the kind that is used when we are in a flow state where we want to do things. The motivation for these type of forced tasks is often money but it can also be things like household tasks or other obligations.

The interesting point for me is that how our mind interprets these things that we have to do can be informed, heavily, by how we frame them. A diary filled with tasks that NEED performed can easily begin to feel like work and tire us out, using up this precious slow renewing energy. The problem is that we chose to fill our diary with them so it feels like they shouldn't tire us out because we picked them, but they are still things we now feel obligated to do. If they don't get done, we will feel a similar guilt to missing a deadline or failing to deliver on a promise.

So how do we deal with this? The answer, in my mind anyway, has to do with motivation and minimalism. There are obviously some tasks that we will actually need to perform, but we can minimise the number of tasks that we perform in this way and try to ask the question "Do I really need to do this right now?". In this way we can simplify our lives and focus on the things that really matter and that we wish to do. Spending more of our time on things that we feel motivated to do allows us to tap into the state of flow that affords frictionless performance, fueled by our desire to work in the task space while in our current state of mind. Asking this question also allows us to weed out tasks that actually offer no value to our lives but we've been performing basically because we always have, or feel that we should. 

Sunday, 21 January 2018

The hardest part of creativity

I think the hardest part about creating anything is not trusting yourself to come up with something good. It doesn't seem to matter how many things you put out, and how much you improve, you always have this nagging doubt that the thing you are currently working on will turn out trash and you have no idea what you are doing. Having the best ideas often seems to be a magical occurrence, largely outwith your control, and that is extremely frustrating.

The natural reaction to this, for most people, is to try to nail down what makes you most creative and then try to re-create that situation or circumstances. The problem with this is that we forget that our mind is working in the background, churning away on ideas. It's doing its best work when we aren't having anything to do with it. In some sense that is the true genius, the real artist in all our creative work. It's also the part of the equation that doesn't sit well with creative people because they like to see themselves as the artist, they are the creator, not some part of their brain buried deep in the background. Why do we think of our 'self' as only our conscious brain? Why do we disassociate that ancient part of our brain from our sense of self when it is clearly so important in how we view the world and what we put out into the world as our creative message?

Sunday, 19 November 2017

On the human experience

So I've been thinking lately about being a human and how we experience things. I've come to the conclusion that a lot of the problems people have in life come down to viewing life as something we have, rather than something we experience. Each of us feels like the life we have is our possession or right and that we actually own it and control it. When things go wrong we find the situation really difficult to marry up with that feeling of ownership because we are coming from the perspective that we possess our life and control it. Maybe a better way to deal with life is to think about the idea that we are actually experiencing it, almost as an observer. Life is happening and we are taking part in it but it's not so much that we own our lives. This lets us have less expectations on life and consequently get less bent out of shape about small things that come up or even big things that would normally take up all of our thinking. The situation may be bad, but maybe we should just think about what we can do to enjoy our current experience, rather than stressing out about the fact that life is, mainly, just not in line with what we expected.

I've personally been finding this quite useful in dealing with some medical issues I've been having recently. I'm still nervous about things and I still worry to an extent but I'm worrying less because I've tried to remember the perspective that my body is not something I have complete control over. Sure I can change some things about it through exercise and diet etc but It's not really 'my' body so to speak but the body that i'm experiencing life through. Things about it will fail over time and I have to accept that fact. This helps me to stop worrying about every little ache or problem and wondering whether they could be part of the medical issues i'm going through. They are just part of having a body. I know it sounds completely crazy but nothing takes pain away like understanding that it's not a problem or that it's under control.

It's quite a subtle shift in thinking but i'm finding it quite powerful. 

Saturday, 7 October 2017

A bad situation

So i'm currently in a situation i'm finding very difficult. There are lots of details that I won't go into but the long and short of it is i'm having to sell my home and move in with my mum for a while. Now don't get me wrong, my mum's place is nice and we get on well, so that in that sense it really isn't a problem. The problem for me is that while my house is being sold i'm finding it extremely difficult to be creative as everything is up in the air. I don't know how and when I will be able to create and that is not a particularly nice feeling for me. I'm a man of routine and I find major disturbance to that routine very difficult to deal with.

What i'm finding hardest to deal with currently is the consequences of this to my thinking. Normally, as anyone who reads my thoughts on here would know, I don't put much stock in career or the traditional measures of success such as titles and salary. With everything that's going on however, i'm finding it hard not to view myself as a failure by other people's career driven standards. I'm craving the satisfaction of having career reward and all the bells and whistles that go with it with being able to remember that I took a different path - DELIBERATELY. For quite a few days I was really struggling with these feelings but I think I've managed to put them into some context. In short I think I've been paradoxically craving the stability that a traditionally successful life would afford. The nice house and not having to worry about how it would all be taken away. The thing is, I crave that because of how it would allow me to be creative, without paying attention to the fact that chasing that career would eat up so much of my time that I would never be able to actually do those things properly. I've been in that situation before and it didn't work well for me at all.

In short not being able to be creative currently, with any regularity, is causing me to feel like I need to take the easiest path back to my routine. The easiest path currently feels like it would be to take on more career chasing, get more reward and stabilize the spinning chaos. In truth this would lead to discontent in the long term because my heart isn't in that life-style. It would also take longer than I think as I've not been chasing that type of success, with good reason. A better solution, I think, is to try to ignore all the spinning chaos, ignore the career and just get back to doing things that inspire me and build up my mental energy. Maybe I can't create right now, but I can fill my head with ideas for later. That song I can't record, at least write down the idea. That nice lyrical note, note it down. Hopefully this will mean that when I do sort out my situation and get a routine going, I can actually really get my money's worth out of it. I think there are also some other forms of creative activity that I can do in the meantime, such as working on books and other activities that don't require me to have a set of tools such as instruments and microphones.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Words have power because you can't ignore them

One of the most difficult things in life can be learning when/how to ignore other people and blocking out things they say or the effect they have on you. It is a sad fact that in most conversations you have with people, that go beyond the very basic or mundane, the person you are conversing with will have some form of agenda that is not necessarily aligned with your own. These thoughts can, over time, get embedded under your brain and become difficult to shift. Like some clawing little beast inside your mind, you can't even remember why it is you suddenly feel the need to do something. It feels like a compulsion that you can't tie down until suddenly it hits you, this is because of that conversation you had with that weird guy in the uni lab isn't it. You remember, that one where he told you about his theory on life and how it's very fabric is affected by demon carrots and our zombie rabbit masters.

You see this is the danger of cognition and language. We hear, parse and understand language but we don't have some underlying system for processing it without it entering our brain first. It's not like the autonomous parts of the central nervous system, it has to actually fire neurons in our grey matter and get swirled around and reinforce the pathways that the thought takes. This means that simply by listening to an idea, even if it's complete garbage, we still run the risk of internalising it. This is the principle behind a lawyer blurting out something in a courtroom that is then stricken from the record. It was still heard and it will still influence the jury, whether they want it to or not.

This concept grows arms and legs when you consider that some people have things they want you to hear, even if they have no idea whether it's the best thing for you or whether the concept could cause you damage or get you in trouble. Words are a powerful thing and we would do well to not use them with complete abandon, as we most often do.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Happiness versus contentedness

Today I want to talk about the concept of happiness versus contentedness. I think most people would know what you meant if you discussed being happy but I feel that often we confuse happiness with contentedness. For me happiness is a much more fleeting emotion, centred around our current situation. If we eat a piece of chocolate we often feel a high, an upwards lift, but it is often tempered with a negate longer term effect. Contentedness, on the other hand, is a much more steadied emotion, calm and neither up nor down. It is also much less direct and it's cause can often be more difficult to tie down.

So how does happiness come about? Well, its roots seem to be in the pre-frontal cortex, the youngest part of the human brain. There is where a lot of rational thought occurs and is the area in which we spend most of consciousness. It is also the area of our brain over which we can exert the most control. We can easily change what we are immediately thinking about or doing, so we can make ourselves immediately happy. One of the best example of this can be seen with substances such as drugs and alcohol. Both have been known to numb negative emotions and create a positive sense of happiness. The same can be said of sexual promiscuity with a newly aquainted stranger. Again it may cause an immediate sense of happiness but the effects of such can be quite negative to our longer term goals.

In contrast to this contentedness is formed, in my opinion, in the older parts of the brain that deal with longer term emotions and what we would call the sub-conscious. Here is where a lot of our anxieties, troubles and any underlying issues tend to reside. These bubble up at random times in response to things that don't often seem to make much sense. This is also why we refer to not dealing with negative emotions as "burying" them. We don't deal with them immediately, to avoid our un-happiness, and instead allow them to enter our deeper sub-conscious brain. Because contentedness comes from a much deeper part of our brain, it can feel much more difficult to get a handle on. Cause and effect seems much less entwined and the emotions arising from this part of our brain can often seem quite chaotic. What created them is often so removed from their eventual symptom that we feel like the brain is acting in a random way.

In short I believe that we can have a happy young brain and a happy old brain (A painful neurological simplification, but a useful one none the less). If we feed our young brain mental chocolate it will be happy but paradoxically this could be creating a situation in which our old brain is becoming increasingly worried, upset and anxious. The opposite is also often true in that to make our old brain happy we have to focus on longer term contentedness, often to the detriment of our immediate happiness. A good example of this is a task such as garden-work. We cut the grass and pull up weeds because the garden has gotten to the point where it needs done. It's not a task we particularly enjoy (Although, admittedly, I do now) but we do it because we know that if we leave it, we will end up in a worse situation and the stress will cause us to be in a state that is not content. The immediate happiness of watching our favourite TV show or doing something else enjoyable is tempered with the longer term discontent. To quote the bible, "When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things." Children, almost pathologically, seek out happiness with little thought towards contentedness. As adults we try to explain to them why it's important to not just eat ice cream all the time or watch TV until their eyes glaze over. The truth is that we are often so ill informed of our own discontent that we are not best placed to actually explain to them why this is important. With a little work to understand though, we can be.